FULL MARKS TO THE ESSAY ; A New Publishing Press Is Turning Back to a Neglected Literary Form, as Richard Godwin Discovers
Godwin, Richard, The Evening Standard (London, England)
IT'S a rum time to introduce a new publishing press -- particularly one specialising in essays, often from the unruly minds of Frenchmen. However, the care that has clearly gone into the seven hardbacks that form the first batch from Notting Hill Editions compels curiosity. Bound in cloth, handily sized for ambulant reading, each would make a handsome gift for the Tube-bound intellectual -- but the real matter lies within.
The essay after Montaigne, contends series editor Lucasta Miller, "defiantly resists categorisation, which is perhaps why it has never accrued the corpus of academic critical commentary which surrounds, say, tragedy or the novel".
To remedy this, she has selected a wilfully esoteric septet (further selections will emerge twice yearly). They range from a Mourning Diary from Roland Barthes, in which that scourge of the modern languages undergraduate details his feelings on the loss of his mother, to John Berger's account of the blessings of cataract surgery. Especially resistant to categorisation is Thoughts of Sorts by Georges Perec, whose caprice it once was to write an entire novel without the letter "e". An attempt to arrange the world through lists, it is a sort of avant-garde precursor to The Top 100 TV Bloopers Ever.
More compelling is the collected Table-Talk and Recollections of Samuel Rogers. A banker, poetaster and by all accounts awful shit, Rogers had the odd habit of noting down his friends' speech -- and since his friends included Charles James Fox and Sir Joshua Reynolds, you're glad he did. …